25 To Watch

January 2, 2007

Dawn Fay

Ballet Memphis doesn’t rank its dancers in the typical hierarchical sense. However, if there were a scale, Dawn Fay would undoubtedly land on top as the company’s prima. Watching Fay dance is a bit like listening to Melissa Etheridge sing rock or Diana Krall jazz: She is soulful, insightful, a powerhouse of strength. The beauty of her dancing is not wrapped up in a preconceived notion of what a ballerina should be. Her movement is almost preternaturally strong; she is more handsome than pretty. But her sensitivity and emotion are raw, and for all her force, she is teasingly vulnerable.

In Trey McIntyre’s High Lonesome, the choreographer’s autobiographical modern ballet set to the music of Beck, Fay is triumphant. Trey McIntyre hand-picked her for the figure of his mother because of her “unbridled abandon,” and because he wanted someone with “substance and humanity.”

In 2007, Fay celebrates her 10th anniversary with Ballet Memphis in its early-winter run at the city’s Orpheum Theatre, and, in the spring, at New York’s Joyce Theater. This summer, she will travel cross-country dancing High Lonesome with the Trey McIntyre Project. From Jacksonville to Wolf Trap, audiences will be treated to what Memphis has known and celebrated-a prima who commands classic ballet posture and infuses it with equal parts exuberance and artistry. -Daniel Cappello

Meisha Bosma

There’s fragility and ferocity in the dances Meisha Bosma fashions for her 13-woman company BosmaDance. Since its founding in 2002 in northern Virginia, Bosma, 32, has garnered critical acclaim for her fearless energy, uninhibited expressiveness, and choreographic vision. A Michigan native, Bosma spent two years with Israel’s Kombina Dance Company assimilating a highly physical theatrical approach to movement. Her Handle With Care swirls and careens like a carousel before growing to stiletto-hardened maturity. Next month Bosma premieres an ambitious work for 10 women derived from animal imagery. In May the evening-length Shelter Project will intermingle film, sculpture, and music with her penetrating, emotion-laden choreography. Bosma’s work achingly longs for sanctuary amid today’s unstable world. -Lisa Traiger

Columbus Movement Movement (cm2)

“We no longer buy into the romantic notion that you need to be a starving artist,” says Columbus Movement Movement (cm2) founder Erika Randall. The three-year-old Columbus, OH-based collective is making it possible for local dance artists to share resources. The collective’s mission is to support the Columbus dance scene through showcases and community outreach programs. It provides members with professional-level classes and helps them secure performance venues and raise money. Cm2’s members are a cross-section of dancers, choreographers, and companies. With the success of its sold-out Columbus Dances artist showcases and Gallery Hop site-specific performances, cm2 is changing the face of dance in Columbus. It is stimulating community interest as it helps members thrive as artists. In the coming year cm2 looks to expand its presence in Columbus and beyond through partnerships with local business associations and an greater role as a presenting organization. “Columbus is ripe for cultural growth,” says Randall. “And we have found our success in tapping into that need.” -Steve Sucato

Natalia Osipova

As Kitri Natalia Osipova steaks across the stage with jetes taut at six o’clock, her back arched so much that her head is touching her back leg. Her fiery fouettes bore into the floor, and her impish characterization seduces Don Quixote and audience alike. Natalia Osipova comes from the same virtuoso mold as that other Bolshoi wonder, Maya Plisetskaya.

The 20-year-old’s prodigious talent has sped her from corps to soloist at the Bolshoi Ballet in under two years. Winner of the Grand Prix at the Prix de Luxembourg International Ballet Competition in 2003 and third prize in Moscow’s International Ballet Competition in 2005, she made a noteworthy U.S. debut as Aspicia in The Pharaoh’s Daughter last July, relishing the fantasy of the story as well as the steps. In pure dance works she sparkles and spins, making tricky technique look effortless and singling herself out as someone to train your binoculars on. -Margaret Willis

Kenta Shimizu

Kenta Shimizu brings polish to everything from Western Symphony to Stravinsky Violin Concerto, slicing through the air in the whirl of a variation or steadfast as the most caring of partners. With Miami City Ballet luxuriating in the new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts and a trove of leading parts at his disposal, the 23-year-old is enjoying a banner season. Not that his colors weren’t flying before this. In 2002 he won the silver medal at the Youth America Grand Prix and clinched a contract with Edward Villella, who had admired Shimizu at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS. Solid training in his native Osaka and a gentle but sure delivery sped his progress from corps member to principal soloist in Miami. Amazing to think he had no prior Balanchine experience. But he turned his challenge into our delight (“You need so much stamina!” he points out about his exquisitely rendered Donizetti Variations). Critics from Los Angeles to Long Island have taken note. Their span of praise, however, can’t quite cover Shimizu’s expansive spirit. Asked what he finds most thrilling about his art, he answers, “All of it.” -Guillermo Perez

Grease on Reality TV

When Grease opens on Broadway this spring, the “Danny” and “Sandy” will be well known to TV viewers-because TV viewers will have voted for them on an NBC reality show, You’re the One That We Want.

Why would a savvy, Tony-winning director and choreographer like Kathleen Marshall leave the casting of her next show to the whims of television watchers? Marshall says she wouldn’t have with The Pajama Game or Wonderful Town, but Grease is another story: “It’s about young people, so you want to be discovering fresh talent.”

She’s confident that the TV audience will choose wisely. “It’s not like you’re casting Sweeney Todd,” she says. “It’s a show with characters everybody knows.”

Another bit of insurance: “It’s not an amateur contest.” Marshall expects to see plenty of well-trained professional and pre-professional performers in four cities. In early fall, she was still trying to figure out how to present their dance skills on the broadcast. Her solution will air this month and next-tune in for a chance to be on the other side of the audition table for a change. -Sylviane Gold

Attack Theatre

When Michele de la Reza met Peter Kope, she flipped-him over her shoulder-literally. Known for audacious athleticism rooted in release technique, the now married Dance Alloy alums launched the globe-trotting Attack Theatre in 1995. They specialize in site-specific and cross-disciplinary projects. Collaborators have included the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Japan’s Nibroll, and Squonk. Their dance/theatre aesthetic and newfound ensemble quality yield ever-entertaining intermission-less productions built on the “passionate portrayal of everyday life.” Growth spurts yielded a permanent home and swelled the roster to four dancers (with an apprentice pending) plus a band. This spring they embark on a national tour of the hellishly fun Games of Steel (2005), a 75-minute dance/rock opera-esque game show set amid a playground of welded thingamajigs. Attack Theatre’s glass-inspired production premieres in June. -Karen Dacko


An air force cadet looks both ways to make sure he’s alone before busting into an upper body gyration over a series of running-man steps. What he doesn’t know is that his roommate is secretly video-taping-and the whole world is watching. That performance quickly became one of the most popular clips on Google Video last summer, getting hundreds of thousands of views and making the cadet an unlikely dance star.

The launch of sites like MySpace, Google Video, and YouTube has suddenly made it easier for dance to be seen. New and familiar audiences regardless of geographical barriers or budget limitations are watching. Choreographers and dancers across genres are becoming acquainted with each other’s work, making the community even more interlinked and connected.

We can already watch square dancing in Omaha, take breaking lessons on the crip walk, and see Charley Chaplin cuttin’ a rug in silent movies. Snips of video are popping up on dance company websites as well. The Dutch National Ballet’s website has a video link below the headshot of each principal and soloist.

Video will never replace live performance. But when you look on the web, it seems like everybody is dancing. Watch for how the sharing of video clips on the internet will affect dance and its popularity in 2007. -Eric Wolfram

Tiit Helimets

The magical ingredients that make up a prince of the ballet are as mysterious as they are tasty. Recruited from the Birmingham Royal Ballet in late 2005, the Estonian-born artist debuted with the San Francisco Ballet in the The Nutcracker, and an ordinary evening soared into an affirmation of the classical tradition. Helimets fulfills all the qualifications for a genuine danseur noble. He is tall and blessed with textbook proportions, infinitely tapered legs, and an aristocratic bearing. He is a cavalier down to his fingertips, which eloquently support and caress any Odette who inflames his passion. Like many patricians, Helimets comports himself with a mildly ironic air. He moves through the Russian classics as if they were enchanted dreamscapes. He should be as definitive a Desire as the SFB has ever fielded when Helgi Tomasson’s Sleeping Beauty is revived in February. -Allan Ulrich

Vivian Nixon

Looking at Vivian Nixon, 22, you can see the basketball genes in her wiry arms and legs-her father is former Laker Norm Nixon. The glamour genes show up in the dazzling smile, expressive eyes and to-die-for cheekbones-her mother is performer-choreographer Debbie Allen. Then she starts to dance, and you’re really wowed. With sparkling technique honed by training in gymnastics, ballet and modern, and an exuberant stage presence that goes from sweet to sizzling in a flash, she was, by general consent, the best thing about last year’s Earth, Wind & Fire musical, Hot Feet. Making her Broadway debut playing a dance prodigy, she left no doubt that she was one, capping a grueling marathon of jazz, hip hop, and modern numbers with a 25-minute ballet in the second act. A former member of Ailey II, Nixon says doing the show gave her confidence a boost. “I’ve always lived in the shadow of my mother,” she says. “Hot Feet gave me an opportunity to show people what I can do on my own.” And people noticed. She landed the role of Anita in Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars production of West Side Story. There will be more. -Sylviane Gold

Ephrat Asherie

While rehearsing under the tutelage of her mentor, Break Easy, Ephrat Asherie earned the b-girl name Bounce for her energy-infused top-rocking skills. Today she is springing up in diverse dance circles-from breaking ciphers in the underground New York club scene to full-scale theatrical productions like Imagine Tap! in Chicago. Asherie has performed with Rennie Harris Puremovement, hip hop artists LL Cool J and Snoop Dogg, and most recently won the We B* Girlz battle at Lincoln Center with her all-girl crew, Fox Force Five.

Asherie’s influence extends beyond the stage. She teaches at Peridance and Broadway Dance Center, and stars in her own BDC-produced instructional video. In 2007, look for her to broaden her dance scope by performing with Vissi Dance Theater, an urban-contemporary company directed by CourtneyFfrench. -Wendy Garofoli

Nelida Tirado

From her furiously working feet to her tightly coiling arms, Nelida Tirado channels immense emotion without succumbing to melodrama; as with bringing flamenco into the 21st century, it’s a tricky balance, one that she handles in regal fashion.

The 35-year-old New Yorker has performed with such renowned flamenco troupes as Noche Flamenca, appeared alongside Placido Domingo in Franco Zefferelli’s Carmen with the New York Metropolitan Opera, and highlighted blockbuster Broadway shows like Riverdance. Now, she is focusing on a new project: her own. For anyone interested in the future of flamenco, this is very exciting news.

Tirado couldn’t give details on the upcoming shows, but hinted at a risky concept that would move the art form forward while maintaining its essential “exchange between music and dancer”-the raw essence that is so often lost onstage. Though Tirado says the search for something new is “absolutely necessary,” her reverence for flamenco’s fierce yet fragile essence is clear. -Claudia La Rocco

Holly Johnston

Aided by powerful limbs and endless passion, Holly Johnston has mastered the art of performing physically punishing movement with a serene smile on her face. Whether it’s with her two-year-old ledges and bones dance project or dancing for other choreographers like Victoria Marks and Maria Gillespie, Johnston is a fearless and fluid dancer. She seems to transform floor space into trampolines, the surface of water, or tubs of melted chocolate. Just watch her bounce, slide, skim, and ooze.

Raised in Southern California, Johnston got hooked on turbo-charged, off-centered movement in 1997 as a founding member of Stephanie Gilliland’s Tongue Contemporary Dance. She is ferociously dedicated to movement education and has contributed to a more cohesive dance community in Los Angeles. “I want L.A. to be on the national and international radar as a place that produces works of substance,” she says.

Upcoming projects include performing at San Francisco’s ODC Theater, teaching a summer intensive, and working with choreographer Rosanna Gamson on launching a new, LA-based dance festival in September. -Susan Josephs

Zane Booker

Put the HIV/AIDS puzzle together, and many of the pieces have “black gay male dancer” written on them. With shocking statistics, this modern plague is a grim reaper. Zane Booker-elegant, lissome dancer/choreographer-is tackling the beast head-on. As executive/artistic director of the Smoke, Lilies, and Jade Arts Initiative (SLJAI), he heads this new dance/theater production company. Its aim is to provide a venue for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people of color “to openly create work that explores socially relevant, topics through dance, song, and word.”

Having cut his dancing chops with Philadanco and stints in Monte Carlo, the Netherlands, Paris, and across the U.S. (including Baryshinikov’s White Oak Project), Booker launches SLJAI in April during Black Gay Pride Week. “Theater can keep the conversation about responsible sexual behavior alive,” says Booker. -Brenda Dixon-Gottschild

Peng-Yu Chen

American friends refer to her as Pong. And at 5’2″ this Taiwanese-born dancer, who performs with American Repertory Ballet, has a nickname that matches her explosive talent. With a daredevil defiance of gravity and sinuous, snappy movements, Peng-Yu Chen is a young artist whose training in ballet, folk dance, and modern endows her with sophistication beyond her 25 years. After graduating from Purchase College Conservatory of Dance in 2003, she won a place in ARB-contingent upon her ability to master pointework, which she had only begun studying as a college dance major. This season catch Chen’s spirited dancing in artistic director Graham Lustig’s VISTA, Twyla Tharp’s Baker’s Dozen, and in the role of Marie in ARB’s Nutcracker. Pong’s performances will make you believe the adage “anything is possible.” -Rachel Straus

Peggy Dolkas

After only two seasons with Ballet West, Peggy Dolkas was plucked from the corps to dance Juliet in Jonas Kage’s world premiere of Romeo and Juliet. That same season, 2005-06, she took on Odette/Odile, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and a lead in Tudor’s Echoing of Trumpets.

What makes Dolkas so exciting is the vulnerable yet sexy quality she brings to each role. She expertly combines classical technique with an earthiness that compliments her curvaceous body. Humbly unaware of her impact, Dolkas says, “I hope choreographers will see past my figure and know that I am willing to push myself anywhere they want me to go.”

Dolkas graduated from the National Ballet School in Toronto in 2000 and apprenticed with the National Ballet of Canada for two years. She came to Salt Lake City for an audition and was offered a disappointing two-ballet guest contract. But her dream came true when, only two weeks later, she landed a full contract. Next season Dolkas will perform Aurora, Giselle, and the Le Corsaire pas de deux. -Kathy Adams

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ name connotes a legendary sense of style, taste, and love for the arts. For a ballet school to wear her name, the highest standards need to be met. Principal Franco De Vita designed a curriculum that would revere ABT’s tradition, while preparing exceptional students like Devon Teuscher and Faye Hideko Warren (who have already graduated into the ABT Studio Company) to dance a sophisticated variety of styles. Selective in nature, the school trains 45-50 students in small classes of 15-18 students, divided into elementary (ages 12-14), intermediate (14-16), and advanced (16-18) groups. What ultimately distinguishes this school from others? “We are a small school,” says De Vita. “The technique classes are two hours, so we have a lot of time to work with students. And we have a fabulous faculty, including Lupe Serrano, Martine van Hamel, Susan Jaffe, and Kevin McKenzie.” The results are promising. Recent graduates have become apprentices with Houston Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and North Carolina Dance Theatre. -Joseph Carman

Chris Elam: Misnomer Dance Theater

Chris Elam startles viewers with his dancers’ contortions. Resembling an underfed yogi, he can twist his body into any position; his studies in Cuba, Indonesia, and Turkey yield a vocabulary that sets him apart.

Raised in New York, Elam danced through his teens without ever studying traditional technique, focusing instead on improvisation and choreography. He graduated from Brown and earned an MFA at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. His works range from down-home dances that tell stories of romance among shy country people (his dad’s from Kentucky) to exotic tangles that “articulate the awkward and earnest efforts I see in human relationships. I’m interested,” he observes, “in the process of becoming more than oneself.”

He’s now experimenting with motion capture technology. Look for Misnomer at New York’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, April 12-14. His website, www.misnomer.org, has videos, interviews, podcasts, a store, ticket giveaways, and more. -Elizabeth Zimmer

Helen Pickett

When Helen Pickett isn’t in the studio working on a new ballet, she’s reading about mirror neurons and sense perceptions, or philosopher Immanuel Kant. Her approach to choreography focuses on working with one’s own sensory information to explore the infinite possibilities of human movement. Pickett’s style often includes improvisation. Her Etesian, which premiered last year at Boston Ballet, merged formal classical technique with wild distortions of classical movement-a dancer in arabesque might continue to pull the hip further and further off balance until an entirely new shape emerges.

After more than a decade with Ballett Frankfurt under William Forsythe, Pickett returned to the U.S. to teach workshops based on his improvisation methods, kinesiology, Brain Gym (a system that uses movement to strengthen the brain’s neural pathways) and traditional Chinese medicine. Last year she made premieres, Amaranthine for The Sacramento Ballet and Trio in White for The Washington Ballet, both set to Beethoven’s piano music. This year in addition to choreographing for Boston Ballet and guesting with The Royal Ballet of Flanders, she will star in a European film by Laura Elena Cordero. “My character is a former dancer who lives and choreographs in Prague,” says Pickett, “so I don’t have to pretend much!” -Theodore Bale

Sean Patrick Mahoney

It can take a while, and doesn’t always happen, but it’s thrilling to observe: the evolution of a Paul Taylor dancer from appealing neophyte to a performer whose intensity and spirit make a vibrant impact. Tall, rangy, slightly baby-faced Sean Patrick Mahoney has made that transition, and it has been a delight observing the newfound juiciness and daring, the robust muscular force, he now brings to his many roles. He shone as Lisa Viola’s partner in the pastoral entwinings of Spring Rounds, and he lets it fly in Taylor’s wilder, fiercer choreography.

Mahoney, a native of Bensalem, PA, was a charter member of Taylor 2 at 18. Gangly and earnest, he was coached by Taylor himself in the Aureole solo. During high school he trained at Princeton Ballet School and apprenticed with American Repertory Ballet. He returned there for a while, before re-joining Taylor 2 in 2002 and moving on to the main company in 2004. It may have been a roundabout route, but it seems clear that Mahoney is now where he’s meant to be. -Susan Reiter

Lauri Stallings

During her five seasons as a member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Lauri Stallings always looked a little different. Even in a company characterized by strong personalities, she frequently seemed to be marching to her own drummer. So it was not entirely surprising when the dancer-with just three small commissions in hand-left the company early in 2005 to embark on a second career as a choreographer.

Now, two years later, she has just come through what she calls her “trial by fire,” having created more pieces in that short period than she ever thought possible. Among them were a Hubbard Street premiere, the Manifests (a group work that had the quirky, unpredictable quality of a 1960s Czech film), The Language Project (a fiecely dramatic fragment for six dancers seen as part of Dance Chicago’s Dutch National Ballet Project), and Shoo Pah Minor, for the Atlanta Ballet, where she will be resident choreographer for three seasons.

“This is how I was meant to be spending my time,” she says. “I find the process of dancemaking completely fascinating, and my hope is that I can continue to walk into the studio as a blank slate and begin to dig.” In the future are pieces for ABT Studio Company, a work set to debut at New York’s Symphony Space later this year, and much more. -Hedy Weiss

Rulan Tangen

Bold black and white stripes, swirls, and dots painted on their skin and costumes enrich the forceful movement of 13 performance artists in Rulan Tangen’s DANCING EARTH-Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations. In Constellations, their rubbery stances, earth-hugging pelvic contractions, and break-dance embellishments bring the indigenous dances of Native Americans to the stage in a new and contemporary way.

Tangen, director and choreographer, tells vivid stories that are understood on a visceral level. Trained in ballet, modern, yoga, and traditional tribal dance, she creates an ancestral style that she calls Indigenous Contemporary Dance. In 2005 she choreographed, danced, and acted in the movie The New World and premiered dances at Phoenix’s Heard Museum. Last year she performed in the Living Rituals International Indigenous Dance Festival. She’s just finished choreographing for the upcoming film Apocalypto. In 2007, Dancing Earth: Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations plans to tour to Argentina, Mexico, Northern California, and New York City. -Janet Eigner

Max Pollak

If hearing a dancer tap can double your fun, hearing hoofer Max Pollak can be positively psychedelic. Not content to leave sound-making to busy heels and toes, he sings electrifying Santeria chants; his body percussion turns flesh and bones into drums resonant with Afro-Cuban rhythms.

An Austrian-born drummer who loves American jazz and film, Pollak moved to New York in 1991, graduated from The New School’s jazz program, and pursued interests in tap and Cuban culture.

Originator of Cuba’s first tap festival, he’s been teaching there since 1998, and has performed with Los Munequitos de Matanzas, Cuba’s top-ranked rumba group, and Chucho Valdes, leader of the jazz band Irakere.

Pollak’s loopy, passionate performances have dazzled Tap City festival crowds, awed fans at a tiny Lower East Side new music space, and inspired delirium all over the globe. Catch his RumbaTap fever at University at Albany (Feb. 5-8), Joyce Soho (Mar. 8-11) and Symphony Space (Apr. 28) -Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Jamar Roberts

At over 6’5″, Jamar Roberts, 23, is ready to claim his spot as the next Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater premier danseur. With movie star good looks and an Olympian physique, he moves like fire. Watch this year for his blossoming partnership with the phenomenal Alicia Graf. See them dance the central pas de deux of Judith Jamison’s Reminiscin’, full of pathos and poignancy. Or catch them in Carmen de Lavallade’s dramatic staging of John Butler’s Portrait of Billie. Or let this Florida native impress you with his impeccable classical technique in The River, Ailey’s collaboration with Duke Ellington. Or let him take your breath away in pieces by Tharp, Armitage, and Uri Sands, all being presented this season at Ailey. “I realize the only way I’m going to achieve my full potential as a performing artist is to constantly give 150 percent,” says Roberts. “Less is not enough!” -Robert Tracy

Melody Herrera

Melody Herrera’s chameleon charm sets her apart. She’s all mischief, mayhem, innocence, and wonder as the youngest child in Christopher Bruce’s Hush. In Stanton Welch’s Velocity, a speeding-train ballet, she morphs into a sleek siren with sinewy limbs extending like vectors in all directions. In the super slow adagio, she casts a spell that makes everything that happens afterward seem summoned by her. Adaptability is just one of the abilities that contributed to her promotion to soloist at Houston Ballet in 2005. Regardless of the demands of a role, Herrera, 23, projects an ethereal quality-light, yet grounded in rock-solid technique. “I want a choreographer to know he can put me in any kind of role and I will succeed,” says Herrera. Trained at the Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre and Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, she’s spent her entire professional career (five years) at Houston Ballet. Challenges for the upcoming year include featured roles in Welch’s Madame Butterfly in March and Coppelia in June. Herrera and her husband Randy Herrera (a first soloist in the company), have a 2-year old son. -Nancy Wozny